“It’s not rebels that make trouble, but trouble that makes rebels.” – Ruth Messinger
The air is cool and damp, dewy droplets visible on the grass. Sipping my coffee, I try to distinguish how many different birds I can hear…at least four accompanied by some morning crickets. It’s just cool enough that I grab the blanket off the back of the sofa. This “three seasons” room is my favorite place in the house, and its beauty and safety are what I need today.
I pull my journal out and begin to write. The words come quickly as my fear and anger find their way onto the pages.
I feel angry at God for what he has allowed to ravage my family, and particularly my son. I am furious at how the church has participated in the harm, again and again. Hot tears spill from my eyes as I write my lament. When my hand seems to have found the end of what needs to be written, I am less angry with God. And I am left with my thoughts about what I know—the rules. The evangelical law.
The rules tell me the path forward. They are quite clear; in fact, black and white. My only choice is to pray for Steven to repent, refuse to accept him, “love him and hate his sin.” I will need to explain to his little sisters that we don’t approve of Steve or his “choice” to be gay. I will have to help them navigate this, and I will need to find answers to their questions about what they could do that would make Jesus disappointed in them and cause us to refuse to accept them too. I will have to tell my college-age son that I know more about his sexuality than he does, and whatever he believes and feels, he is wrong. I will have to tell him there is no hope or goodness ahead for him unless he follows the rules.
And this day, sitting on my porch, hot tears still spilling, I beg Jesus to come sit with me. This day all the years of living by the rules and ignoring my own heart are shredding me. I know this space well. Living by the rules kept me from grieving things that needed grief, naming things that needed to be named, engaging the Lord in ways he was clearly inviting me to—because as long as I lived by the rules, I really didn’t need him.
The rules were an efficient substitute for his presence, and they stagnated my faith.
Weeping, I recall how I have known the presence of Jesus in scenes of my own story and countless others. The rules have been challenged before and found to be unhelpful, but nothing quite this acute. Sexuality is an evangelical hot button that you don’t touch.
I remember that the desert fathers valued the importance of our tears. Tears were considered a baptism for your soul. Your tears will lead you home, home to your heart.
That day, in the cool morning air, I was crying rebel tears. Tears that spoke to the trouble with the rules I had been told to live by. Tears that felt fierce and filled with a mother’s love. Tears that called forth the need for greater faith. Tears that would require forging a new path forward for myself, for Mark and me, for our family. Tears that would be costly in some ways and restorative in ways I didn’t know yet.
John 6:37, 39 recounts Jesus’s words: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away…And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
The Greek word for “drive away” includes in its meaning: “to send out with a notion of violence, to expel a person from society, to banish from family, to compel one to depart in stern language. To reject with contempt, to cast off or away.”
Jesus will lose none of all, and he will never drive one of his children away. Why in the world would we think we are supposed to do something other than what he would do?
I have come to know that losing none of all has stretched my faith, drawn me closer to God’s heart, and cultivated a deeper reliance on the presence of the Spirit within me. I am more curious and less judgmental. I am more loving and less contemptuous. And I am more angered by the presence of evil that leaves anyone feeling divided, distanced, or deceived about God’s love for them. I am a rebel when it comes to black-and-white evangelical rules that result in any of God’s children feeling they have been cast out.
My table, my home, my Red Tent, will be a place marked by the energy of the Jesus, and with his help, we will lose none of all the Father gives us and will never drive them away.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 34 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastor’s wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations, and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.